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Tessa Donovan stared across the parking lot of Donovan Brothers Brewery, mesmerized by the flashes and swirls of blue and red across the gray brick of the building. She couldn't help but stare. The police lights were so at odds with the birdsong and pale sunlight of the earlymorning hour.
Her brother Jamie stood between the two cop cars parked at haphazard angles near the back door. He wore a dazed expression, probably because he'd never met an early morning willingly.
She stalked across the parking lot and grabbed her brother by the collar of his rumpled Tshirt.
"Hey!" he protested.
Tessa pulled him closer, tugging him down until they were nose to nose. "James Francis Donovan," she whispered, "what have you done?"
"What are you talking about?" Jamie asked, sounding just outraged enough that Tessa almost believed him for a second. But only for a second.
She twisted his collar tighter. "spill it."
"Come on, Tessa." He yanked away from her grip and waved an angry hand at the police cars. "You're not accusing me of having something to do with the robbery, I hope? I set the alarm, I locked the doors. This is not my fault."
Tessa ran a suspicious eye down her brother's body. He looked like he always did. Tall and handsome and laidback. His jeans were worn out by a thousand washings, his Tshirt faded to cloudy gray. His light brown hair was sleeptousled, but that was nothing new. Unfortunately, neither was the guilty shift of his eyes when she looked into them.
"Damn it, Jamie."
"I know the robbery wasn't your fault, but you said you were the one who found the door open. So what the hell were you doing here at seven in the morning? And why'd you call me instead of Eric?"
Eric was their older sibling, and though they all owned equal shares of the brewery, Eric had always taken the lead. He was the logical person to call to report that the brewery had been robbed. But Jamie had called her instead. not good. not good at all.
Jamie ran a hand through his hair and stared up at the pale blue sky. "It's bad, Tessa."
Her heart fell to somewhere below street level. "What's bad? What?"
"Monica Kendall came by last night."
"No. Oh, no, no, no." Monica Kendall was the vice president of High West Air and the key to the distribution deal that Eric had been working on for months. "Jamie, please tell me you didn't. Even you wouldn't be that stupid."
"Even I wouldn't? Nice thing to say to your brother."
"Jamie!" she screeched. God, she wished the cops would turn the lights off on the patrol cars. The colors were digging into her eye sockets.
Jamie finally gave up his outraged stance. His shoulders slumped. His head fell. "I don't know what happened," he murmured. "She said she wanted a tour of the brewery. Of course, she sampled a few of the beers and then
"She needed a ride home."
Tessa's sunken heart flopped weakly. She knew exactly what he meant. Women loved Jamie, and at twentynine, he was in the prime of loving women right back. "No," she muttered again. "This isn't happening."
"I took her home," he said. "I had to."
"You could've called a cab!"
Christ, I just thought I'd get her home and take a cab back and. I didn't mean to"
"You didn't mean to? Good God, you are such a dog! Try thinking with your brain sometime, Jamie. Just on special occasions if that's all you can handle."
His eyes flashed green hurt, and Tessa immediately felt terrible. He'd been lobbying for more responsibility at the brewery lately, trying to step up to the plate, but Eric had resisted. If he found out about this.
"Okay," Tessa said, taking a deep breath to calm herself. "Okay, as long as her dad doesn't find out. Monica won't say anything, right? Why would she?"
The blank regret on his face told a different story, but before she could get it out of him, the back door of the brewery opened and one of the officers came out. "A detective is on his way over. He'll want to walk through with you when he arrives, Mr. Donovan."
"Thanks," Jamie muttered.
Tessa craned her neck to try to see through the cracked door. "You're sure the tanks are okay?"
Jamie nodded. "Everything looks fine except for a couple of missing computers and one keg."
The breakin should have been the most upsetting event of the day. On any other day, she'd be crying and wringing her hands over the violation. But if Eric found out what Jamie had done with Monica Kendall, it would ruin her brothers' relationship, and her brothers
they were all she had. She had to fix this, somehow.
"Please, Jamie," she said as the officer paced toward his car. "Tell me there's no more bad news."
He sighed as if he'd been holding his breath. "It was stupid. You're right. really fucking stupid. But it seemed like it would be no big deal this morning. It was fine. Only I didn't realize
When we pulled up to her place last night, I thought it was just a house up in the foothills. But it wasn't. She lives in the guesthouse. Her dad's guesthouse."
For a moment, the world actually turned around Tessa's head. The sky and the clouds and the dark green pine treesthey rotated in a slow, sick spin. Tessa closed her eyes and prayed.
"When she was pulling out of her garage, her dad jogged right past. He saw me."
"Oh, God." This was the perfect storm of bad news. Their brother had been working Roland Kendall for months, trying to convince him that Donovan Brothers beer would be the perfect microbrew to serve on the fleet of the brandnew High West Airline. Eric had worked stubbornly toward this moment, intent on getting the brand into new hands, new customers. A few weeks before, he'd finally arranged a private meeting with Roland and his daughter, Monica. They'd made their final pricing offer. The deal had almost been done, the contracts sent over.
disaster in the form of Jamie Donovan. "I'm going to kill you," she said flatly. "This one woman. Just this one woman you had to avoid touching."
"That's not fair," he snapped. "You two always talk like I'm with a new woman every night. I haven't dated in months!"
Tessa crossed her arms and paced away from him, trying to think. "Are you sure he saw you?"
"He saw me. Though I suppose it's possible he didn't recognize me."
"Okay. We can handle this," Tessa said, thinking fast. "First of all, don't say anything to Eric."
Jamie shook his head. "I need to tell him."
"Are you insane?" she snapped. "Eric is going to be furious. With both of us! I took your side on this, damn it. I told him to let you help with the negotiations. You are not telling Eric."
"He's going to find out. And I'm not interested in hiding from him like a kid avoiding punishment. This is my company, too. If I screwed up, I'll face it."
"This isn't just about you, Jamie. We're a family, and I don't want this to be the wedge that finally drives us apart. So keep your mouth shut until I find out what Roland Kendall is going to do."
He threw his hands up in frustration, but Tessa ignored him. Sometimes the best defense was a good offense, and Tessa was on the attack today.
"Here's what you're going to do," she said in a rush. "I'm going to leave. You call Eric as if he's the first one you called. If he asks, you went home with a woman and she dropped you off this morning, but do not mention Monica Kendall. I'll come back in twenty minutes or so and act like I've never been here."
"God, you've gotten devious," he muttered.
He had no idea.
"I'll call Roland Kendall later and see if I can read him. You keep your mouth shut."
"Tessa," he started, but she stalked away from him, heading down the street toward her house.
She knew she should be worried about the robbery, but that seemed far and away the least of her problems. Even losing the deal with High West wouldn't exactly be a family tragedy.except that it would be.
Eric was becoming more and more withdrawn into his role as head of the family. Tessa could understand that. He'd filled the shoes of their father since their parents had died in a car accident. Eric had only been twentyfour when he'd become responsible for two kids and a business. So Tessa could understand why, thirteen years later, he might have trouble stepping back from that. But he had to.
If Eric needed to relax a little, Jamie needed to add some stress to his world. He couldn't keep living like a carefree bartender for the rest of his life. Hell, he didn't even want to. He wanted to step up and act like a fullfledged partner. Minus, apparently, any restraint when it came to women. But plenty of successful men had that problem. There was no reason Jamie shouldn't join their ranks.
Tessa spotted another patrol car approaching, followed by a suspiciously nondescript sedan. She ducked her head, trying to escape the crime scene undetected. Her house, the house they'd all grown up in, was only three blocks away. She'd change from her yoga pants to jeans and brush her hair as if she'd been up for an hour before receiving Jamie's call. Speaking of.
She hit redial on her cell phone. "Did you call Eric yet?"
"He's on his way," Jamie muttered, then reminded her, "I don't like this."
"I know. But we have to make this right."
"He's our brother, Tessa, not our dad. I don't answer to him."
"No, but you owe him. We both do."
While Jamie's sigh was still echoing through the phone, Tessa hung up on him and rushed up her front walk. She'd done all she could for now. She couldn't call Roland Kendall for several hours at least. If he hadn't placed Jamie's face yet, her phone call might trigger the connection. She'd have to be patient, and plan this deception with ruthless care.
It shouldn't be that hard. She'd been managing her brothers' relationship since the day her parents had died. She played referee, defused fights and forced them to spend time together over Sunday dinners and holiday feasts. They were the only family she had left and she wasn't going to lose that, certainly not over a business deal.
"I can handle this," she insisted to herself as she turned onto her street and rushed toward home. "It'll be okay."
So why did she feel so sick inside?
Detective Luke Asher whipped the latex gloves off and tossed them into the alley Dumpster before turning to shake hands with Eric Donovan. "Eric, it's good to see you again, though not under these circumstances."
"Well, Jamie was just telling me that not much was taken. In fact, I was surprised to see you here."
"I'm sure you won't be out more than your insurance deductible on the computer equipment. But we're more concerned with the information on the computers. Social Security numbers, credit card information. There's been a rash of these types of breakins at local businesses. Patrol called me when they realized the alarm had been circumvented somehow. That makes it less likely to be a casual robbery."
Eric's eyes slid toward his brother. "Are you sure the alarm was circumvented? Maybe it was never set."
Luke was sure he'd never seen someone snap from relaxed to furious as quickly as Jamie pulled it off. "I told you I set the damn alarm, Eric."
"I know you think you did," Eric said.
Jamie's mouth twisted and his hands balled to fists. "Screw you."
Hoping to restore peace, Luke raised his hands. "There's no doubt about this. Jamie definitely set the alarm. The alarm company shows it was armed at 9:30 p.m. and turned off at 1:00 a.m."
Jamie shot a look of pure fire at his brother, but he didn't seem satisfied with the vindication. His tension held tight when he paced over to a patrol car, his arms crossed as if he wanted to keep his hands still. Strange. Luke had known Jamie for ten years, and his demeanor had always registered on a scale that started with sleepy and topped out at laidback.
Luke cleared his throat. "Do you know what payroll information was kept on the computers?"
Jamie glanced over his shoulder. "Tessa will know more. She takes care of all that stuff. She should be here any"
"We outsource payroll," Eric interrupted. "So the information is limited. And I don't think there's any credit card information on the PCs these days. Hopefully the damage will be minimal."
"Good," Luke said. "We're almost finished in there. We're just dusting for a few prints and then we'll get out of your way. I hope this'll be nothing more than an inconvenience for you. They hit a temp agency a couple of weeks ago. That place had thousands of Social Security numbers on file."
"Yeah. If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to take a look around out here." Luke walked to the back of the building, hoping to note anything out of place, but the exterior seemed fine. Wooden pallets were stacked in neat columns. A tenfootlong carbon dioxide tank sat next to the building on clean concrete, untouched by weeds or debris. The same applied to the big stainlesssteel grain silo.
He knew from the layout inside that the padlocked corrugated door rolled up to reveal the bottling area and a small loading dock. If he'd been thinking of the brewery as a bar, he would've changed his mind back here. Not one bar in the world had a back lot this clean.
When he didn't find even a hint of something suspicious, Luke circled the front of the building. Sunlight deteriorated beer, Jamie had explained earlier, so the few windows in the place were high up and always locked.
Luke was just rejoining Jamie and Eric when he noticed a woman approaching across the parking lot. Her blond ponytail bounced as she rushed closer. Luke found his eyes dipping down, taking note of the tight jeans and gorgeous thighs. Aside from a killer body, she looked perfectly innocent, pinkcheeked and brighteyed.
"Hey, guys," she said breathlessly. "What's going on? Do you know anything more?"
Eric reached for the woman to give her a hug, so Luke used his detective skills to determine that this was the sister. They didn't pay him the big bucks for nothing. Also, she looked a lot like Jamie Donovan, though smaller and way prettier.
She shot Jamie a tense look. Jamie's gaze fell to the ground, his mouth tightening. Whatever passed between them seemed set aside when she looked at Luke and smiled. "Hi," she said, offering a hand. "I'm Tessa Donovan."
"Detective Asher," he said. When he took her hand, he felt the fine bones of her fingers and smelled a faint flowery scent that made him clear his throat in defense. His life was way too complicated to leave room for noticing how a pretty woman smelled.